Iceman (2014) Review

"Ice Man" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Ice Man” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA:Iceman 3D
Director: Law Wing Cheong
Producer: Stephen Shiu Jr., Stephen Shiu, Gao Jun
Writer: Mark Wu, Lam Fung, Shum Shek-yin
Cast: Donnie Yen, Wang Baoqiang, Eva Huang Sheng Yi, Simon Yam, Lo Hoi Pang, Jacqueline Chong Si Man, Lam Suet, Benny Chan Ho Man, Mark Wu You Fai, Hu Ming
Running Time: 104 min.

By Paul Bramhall

2014 has been a busy 12 months for Donnie Yen, with Special ID, The Monkey King, Kung Fu Jungle, and Iceman 3D all hitting cinema screens over the course of the year. This is on top of the movies he’s already started production on, which are due for release in 2015. So it’s fair to say the guy has a very full plate on his table. The question is of course, with such a packed schedule, is the quality of the productions being affected by working on so many movies at once?

While at the time of writing, Kung Fu Jungle has yet to be released, Special ID and The Monkey King both drew heavy doses of criticism, and while both had their supporters, it was fair to say that the majority seemed to give them a thumbs down. I myself was scarred by the experience of Special ID, and The Monkey King didn’t particularly appeal. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be completely transparent and say I didn’t have any intention of watching Iceman 3D, a remake of the 1989 movie The Iceman Cometh. While some fans hold the original in high regard, for me (with the exception of the final fight between Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah) it’s a largely forgettable piece of Hong Kong cinema.

So the news of a remake, which is being split into two parts no less – that gives us Donnie Yen in place of Yuen Biao, and Wang Bao Qiang in place of Yuen Wah – was hardly an attractive sell. Nevertheless, circumstances converged to find me watching Yen’s latest effort, so I was prepared to go in with an open mind. To my surprise, I found Iceman 3D to be an entertainingly dumb experience. It’s dumb on an epic scale, in a way which is best described as combining the genius/grating comedy of The Lucky Stars movies, with the big budget action of a Hollywood blockbuster, while still maintaining that certain level of charm that so many of Hong Kong’s 1980’s output had.

Within the first few minutes we’re subjected to Donnie’s rocket powered pissing power, as he relieves himself of several centuries worth of holding it in. This scene essentially acts like a calling card for the rest of the movie; kind of like a “This is what you’re letting yourself in for, if you don’t like it, turn off now.” Sure enough, the movie proceeds to deliver on the early promise shown in that first scene, with Yen at one point dispatching of a whole SWAT team through the use of a toilet filled with his exploding feces. Yes, you read that line correctly. He also gets fart jokes as well, so he’s basically given the chance to express the whole human digestive process through what we’re supposed to believe is comedy gold.

Of course, it isn’t. However, things move along briskly, and there’s a high level of energy throughout the proceedings, which somehow makes its stupidity somewhat charming. Iceman 3D also deviates form the original in that Yen has to deal with not just one frozen comrade from the past, but two. Wang Bao Qiang and Yu Kang play the thawed out soldiers pursuing Yen through modern Hong Kong, however compared to the raping and pillaging of Yuen Wah in the original, they surprisingly lack any real sense of villainy. Instead, we’re given a series of mildly amusing scenes in which they indulge in a variety of different curries, and there’s a genuinely amusing karaoke scene.

Instead of being a pair of villains for us to root against, Bao Qiang and Kang are actually rather likeable. This is backed up by the fact that the very reason they’re after Yen is for a crime he didn’t commit, as it becomes gradually clear through the flashbacks to the past that Yen has been framed by some higher power, no doubt to be revealed in Iceman 3D 2. What’s more surprising is that it’s actually Yen himself who gets the most brutal scene of the movie, were he dishes out some serious pain to Lam Suet that’s reminiscent of some of Yuen Wah’s scenes from the original. It’s moments like this which define the rather schizophrenic nature of the remake.

Being a Yen movie, many will go in with the expectation of wanting to see some kung fu action, and it’s probably the movie’s lack of this which has resulted in it drawing a lot of disdain from other reviewers. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have action, it does, and a decent amount of it, however, just like Yen’s exaggerated bowel movements, the action is equally exaggerated. From ancient warriors snowboarding down the side of a mountain, to the final confrontation on a traffic filled bridge, those looking for Yen to get his hands dirty will be left wanting, as there’s a lot of wire-work and CGI in the action scenes. Fans may be pacified by the nightclub fight, which does remain largely grounded, and features Yen’s trademark split second flurry of punches, but overall the action goes for fantastical rather than grounded.

That being said, the tone of the action scenes is perfectly aligned with the tone of the rest of the movie. Silliness is the order of the day here: Yen running around Hong Kong in possession of an ancient penis (note: not his own); Yen able to perfectly use a tablet less than 5 minutes after seeing one for the first time; Simon Yam’s exceptionally strange hair; and Eva Huang’s awkwardly staged English language scene.

Of course there are also downsides, which include the odd, not-so-subtle swipe at Hong Kong, which was no doubt inserted into the script for mainland appeal (in one scene, Huang explains to Yen how when she first arrived in Hong Kong and spoke Mandarin, everyone would look down on her, to which Yen cheesily responds, “We are weird xenophobic beings.”) However, these unintentionally amusing exchanges are still a lot more palatable than the usual in-your-face flag waving that these movies find themselves subject to these days.

Speaking of nationalistic undertones, Iceman 3D also deserves special mention in that it’s the only Hong Kong  kung fu movie I’ve seen in recent times which features a finale pitting Chinese vs. Chinese. Refreshingly, there is no sudden plot twist involving Japanese or Western villains being shoe horned into the plot (I’m looking at you True Legend). It’s simply a good old fashioned good guy vs. the bad guys. Of course as I mentioned, the story leaves on a cliffhanger to set us up for Iceman 3D 2, and I have to say the closing twist involving Simon Yam actually comes over as being quite smart. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say the twist may go a long way to explaining exactly why Bao Qiang and Kang aren’t portrayed as being particularly villainous; at the same time, there’s a hint that the whole thing could be wrapped up by the arrival of some evil Japanese again. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t go down that path.

All in all, Iceman 3D probably isn’t what most Yen fans wanted, and it’s probably not the movie a lot of traditionally minded Hong Kong movie fans wanted either, but it is an unpretentious and, dare I say, fun, 100 minutes. Perhaps that’s enough.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10

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